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A Spark To Tear A Nation Asunder

Chapters: 14 Pages: 69 Word Count: 16,926 Genre: Science Fiction/Political Drama/War Story

Major Samantha Wethermain has only wanted one thing: to serve the nation she loves. However, as civil war comes to the United States and her mother turns out to be the leader of the rebellion, Samantha faces a dilemma: does she uphold her oath, or does she join her mother in treason? Find out in the story that reveals how the Second American Civil War began.

Chapter 1: Dreaming of A Life That Never Will Be

Heather felt like she had awoken in a dream. With her hand clasping her husband’s, they strolled towards the beach. The morning’s sun illuminated the path they took from their villa to the coast. Seagulls chirped, their silhouettes visible high over the ocean. A breeze blew across Heather’s back, causing her bare skin to tingle and a smile to form.

Heather looked up at the horizon, noting how the sun’s light mingled with the sky to create a pallet of reds, yellows, and oranges. Blissful. Serene.

“Every night I thought of you and Samantha,” Henry said. “Held you in my heart. Held onto the hope that this war would end, and that I would see you both again.”

“There there,” Heather comforted Henry. “The war is over. We’re together.”

Henry turned and stroked her chin. “And now I must leave you again.”

“No. You just came back to me. Don’t go. I can’t live without you.”

“I’m sorry, my love, but I must. The war is over, and we lost.” Henry released his grip and headed towards the rising sun and the horizon beyond.

Heather tried to follow, but the landscaped changed, with a wire fence now barding her path. Beyond it stood an Arabian city. It laid beside a desert. Missiles rose from concealed silos, their wails competing with the cries of sirens. Henry vanished within the dust clouds created by their launches, the sand obscuring Heather’s vision as the cloud rolled past her.

When they cleared, Henry appeared again and waved. Heather clenched the fence and screamed, “Come back. Don’t leave me. I can’t live without you.”

“I love you,” he said, then made his way towards a tower off in the distance.

Heather cried, only to stop when a light engulfed the tower. It shined like a supernova. Not even her hands could shield her from it. Eventually, it faded, and Heather peeked, her reward the sight of a mushroom cloud enveloping the city. More formed as…

California Vice Governor Wethermain awoke in a long chair in the backyard, while a golden retriever shoved a Frisbee in her face.

“Yes, yes. Here you go.” She took the Frisbee and tossed it across the lawn.

Frank ran after it, freeing Heather to reach for the martini that rested on the stand beside her. She took a sip, then went for a cigarette and a lighter.

“You shouldn’t be indulging in that habit,” her assistant Rebecca said as she approached Heather, a binder in hand. “You’re a role model to millions of girls.”

“Oh, give me a break. I’m the vice governor of a state, not the fuckin’ President.”

“You should still try to set an example.”

Heather lit the cigarette and took a puff. “Why? America has gone to shit. Really doesn’t matter what anyone does anymore. We’re all screwed.”

Rebecca shook her head, then placed the binder on the table. “Don’t say that.”

Heather frowned. “Why not? The Middle East is gone. The economy is in shambles, our allies hate us, and what do we have to show for it? A bunch of stupid MAGA hats. Oh wait, we don’t even have those. They were made in China, and the Chinese aren’t exactly trading with us these days. Don’t blame them. Who would want to invest in this shithole of a country.”

“Things aren’t all bad. America can still make a comeback. We just have to hold onto hope.”

“Hope? Really? Let’s see what cheery news we can look forward to today.” Heather grabbed the remote and turned on the large monitor that stood across the patio.

Images flashed over it: police hosing down rioters, the crowd driven into a frenzy because of the rise of food prices. Heather tapped the remote and was rewarded with talk of Hurricane Maranda. Thousands had died in Florida, not just because Maranda was bad, and it was, a category five, yet more irrefutable evidence that climate change was real, but because the state was broke and couldn’t afford the rescue helicopters critical to saving lives.

A third click and Governor Philip Brownback appeared, the dwarfish man standing in front of a large crowd under the California sun. “President Wellman says that we must give up Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Why? So that he can pay back foreign bankers. Do you believe this guy? He calls himself a Democrat. A Democrat? LBJ must be spinning in his grave. He says that we must take on one-ninth of the military. Why? So that he can balance the budget.

“Now, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t vote for him so that he could fleece me of every nickel and dime. The good citizens of California did not get us into this mess. Washington did, and we refuse to dig it out. That’s why as of today I’m stopping all payments to the federal government and will not resume until our demands are met. For a better California!”

“Ah, another brilliant stratagem by our esteem governor,” Heather proclaimed. “One problem. The real money is in payroll taxes, and he can’t touch those.”

“He’s trying something. You should be out there providing your input.”

“Why? No one cares what I have to say.”

“Sure, they do. You’re more beloved than you realize.”

“No, they loved my husband. But Henry had to go and get himself killed alongside millions of Arabs and Jews.” Heather brought the cigarette to her lips.

“We all miss the general, but he’s gone. We lost. We must move on.”

“Yeah. We lost, though not as much as those living in the Middle East, and the whole world blames us for it. Well, I guess the Saudis got their revenge.”

“We can’t worry about that. We need to focus on rebuilding America.”

“Don’t bother.” Heather lowered her cigarette. “We Californians should just secede.”

Rebecca gasped. “From the United States? You’re not serious, are you?”

“America’s dead. Everyone knows it. Trump and Pence drove it to the ground. So did Obama and Bush. Why drag a dead horse?”

***

Major Samantha Wethermain sat in the terminal at Luxembourg-Findel International. Her cell phone rested on her lap, its screen displaying her electronic ticket. Just thinking about the five hundred dollars it cost her to return from deployment made her bristle. She shook her head. “I know Uncle Sam is short on change but is a ticket home too much to ask?"

The speakers crackled. “Flight 228 to Huston, Texas is now boarding.”

Samantha got up, grabbed her duffle bag, and made her way to the line. She showed her cell phone and her passport before being allowed to board.

She entered the airplane and took a seat beside an elderly woman knitting a sweater.

“So, are you visiting America or returning?” the lady asked in a southern accent.

“Returning. I was stationed at Ramstein Air Force Base.”

The lady frowned. “I thought they closed that base years ago.”

“No, just recently. Ramstein was our last military base overseas.”

“Well, there goes the empire,” the lady said bitterly. “When I was a kid, we Americans were not just powerful and respected. We were exceptional. Today, we’re just another nation among many.” She patted Samantha’s hand. “I don’t blame you, dearie. It was those godforsaken liberals. They lost us the War of the Sands. Didn’t support the war effort you see. Now the Middle East is a wasteland, and we Americans are nobodies. Losers.”

Samantha nodded. Many she knew held similar views. Maybe they were right.

The lady leaned in and added, “But don’t worry yourself. We’ll restore America, make it great again, just as Trump promised. Right after we rid ourselves of the vermin who ruined it.” Then she went back to knitting her sweater and humming a tune.

Samantha eyed the lady. Did others share her opinion, and if so, what did that mean?

Chapter 2: Mother and Daughter

Fourteen hours later, her airplane landed in Huston, and Samantha transferred to another, a domestic flight that took her to Sacramento, California. It was mid-day when she finally stepped out under the sun, the terminal before her seeming deserted compared to previous visits, with only a handful of people waiting in line to board their plane.

Samantha walked past a couple trying to remove their luggage from a taxi and approached the one stationed in front of it. “I need you to take me to Prairie Filed Drive.”

“Sure thing,” the driver replied. “Right after you hand over the $120 deposit?”

“A deposit fee?” Samantha grimaced. “When has there been a deposit fee to rent a taxi?”

“Since the price of oil got to $15 a gallon and people started refusing to pay the fare because they thought they were being ripped off.”

“How much is a fare to Prairie Filed Drive going to cost me?”

“Let’s put it this way, sweetheart: odds are the deposit isn’t going to cut it.”

“Well, if it is going to cost me that much, I think I’ll find myself another cab.”

The guy shrugged. “Go ahead. They’ll charge you similar rates. Everything costs triple these days, not just the price of gas. A gallon of milk will cost you $11 and a loaf of bread 9. Blame the Saudis for blowing up the Middle East or the other nations for sanctioning the fuck out of us or Congress for defaulting on the national debt and tanking the world economy.”

Samantha eyed the cab’s meter, not eager to call her mother to ask her to send the family limo. She sighed and removed her credit card. “Hit me.”

The man scanned her card with his reader and helped her get her luggage in. Soon, they were driving south down the 519B towards the city’s center.

Samantha eyed the landscape, again, noting how empty the place seemed. The roads should be congested with traffic. Instead, only a few dozen vehicles occupied the highway, mostly self-driving sixteen wheelers, which were easy to distinguish from their manned counterparts by the lack of windows. They moved with inhuman precision, each the same distance from each other. What became of their drivers? Were they unemployed? Homeless?

Samantha turned to her driver and pondered: how long before a robot replaced him?

Construction on the highway forced them to make a detour. The taxi veered left onto a commercial district. It surprised Samantha the number of closed or for sale signs that hung from windows. Trash cans cluttered curbs, the amount making her wonder when the last garbage truck had visited. Vagrants and dogs sifted through them for food.

Samantha shook her head. “I didn’t realize that things had gotten this bad.”

“Six years of crippling sanctions will do that,” the driver said. “They say the sanctions have been lifted, but if they have, they’re not making a difference.”

“The rest of the world has more or less recovered from the War of the Sands.”

“Just not us.” He exhaled. “I don’t blame the others for slapping sanctions. We did sell the Saudis those nukes. Bit us in the ass, didn’t they?”

Samantha nodded. A lot of moronic mistakes were made during those dark days, and yet she didn’t want to dwell on them. The past was the past. America had screwed up big time, but what concerned her was how it was going to pick itself up.

The two did not speak for the rest of the drive. Afterward, Samantha paid the man an additional twelve fifty and got out. Before her, her childhood home loomed as large and as magnificent as she remembered. “Well, I guess some things never change.”

Samantha walked through the front door and realized that her previous statement was inaccurate. She scanned the atrium, growing distress.

“Where… where have all the photos of Dad gone?” she cried.

“They’re in the addict with the rest of the useless junk.”

Samantha followed the voice to the living room. Her mother, Vice Governor Heather Wethermain, laid on her favorite sofa with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other, their pet golden retriever Frank resting beside her

“Mother, you’re drunk,” Samantha noted as she lowered her duffle bag.

Heather raised the bottle. “It’s the weekend. I might have had” – hiccup – “a glass or two.”

Samantha marched over and yanked the bottle away. “Get up!”

“And why should I? I’m quite comfortable, thank you very much.”

“Why did you remove the portraits of Dad?”

“Your father’s dead, or didn’t you hear? Died in the desert with all the Israelis and Arabs.”

“You should’ve asked me before removing them. Now take a shower and make yourself presentable. I was hoping we’d go out for dinner, but not as you look now.”

Samantha grabbed Frank by the collar and led him outside to run in the backyard. The dog chased a squirrel up a nearby aspen and barked at it.

Overcome with a sense of melancholy, she leaned against a railing and brooded.

Rick Nickle, her mother’s head of security, joined her. “I heard you two getting into an argument. I’m guessing it was over your father’s portraits.”

“Dad’s been dead for six years. Why did she remove them all of a sudden?”

Rick sighed. “She’s been under a lot of stress lately, and truth be told, she has never fully gotten over his death. Probably never will.”

“That’s no excuse. She’s the vice governor of a state for crying out loud.”

“Your mother’s not the first politician to nurse the bottle. Winston Churchill was known—”

“Churchill led Great Britain against the Nazis. What has Mom ever done?”

“Don’t be too hard on her. She means well. She truly does.”

“Why do you even put up with her?”

“Well, it’s my job to watch over your mother.”

Samantha eyed him. “That’s not why you stay. You know she’ll never love you.”

Rick slumped. “Even in death, I am just an ember to your father’s flame. I get that. Still, I will not leave your mother’s side, especially when she needs me the most.”

Samantha shook her head, disgusted, and walked away. She headed for the addict and there, dusted off her father’s military portrait, Dad looking dashing in his general’s uniform. She sniffled. “I know you would want me to watch over Mom, but sometimes…”

Samantha laid her back against a wall. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with her?”

***

Supreme Inquisitor Abbot, leader of the Cabal, traversed a corridor within an underground base. He wore his hood up, concealing his immortal features. Acolytes walked past. They said not a peep, but their thoughts oozed with trepidation, made audible by his telepathy. They telegraphed their fear, and a genuine one at that, that they felt they were always stepping on eggshells when around Abbot and that one wrong word could spell disaster.

Abbot ignored them and continued down the hallway until he entered his inner sanctum. Flying buttresses held up the roof, while burners lit the pathway that led to the rear. A glass mural of Jesus Christ dominated the back wall, and red light poured through it, illuminating a raised platform that functioned similarly to a pontiff’s dais.

Abbot stepped onto the platform, got on one knee and bowed. The glass mural melted and transformed into a gravity-defying pool of liquid metal.

Abbot looked up and said, “Oh Holy One, what is thy bidding?”

A voice emanated from the pool. Just hearing it forced a chill to travel down Abbot’s spine, for he feared the being on the other side, even more than the acolytes feared him. The voice was pain. It was death. Its mere presence caused the burners to dim.

“America is at a crossroads,” the voice said. “It’s elites, both Democrats and Republicans, ignore the public, who cry out for an end to austerity. In statehouses around the country, talk of secession grows. Few trusts that President Wellman will steer America back to calmer waters, while others feel that America is over. All that is required to turn sentiment into action is a spark; an act so outrages that it will tear this nation asunder.”

Abbot nodded. “What would you have me do, Oh Holy One?”

“The desire to leave is felt most keenly in California.” The black pool swirled. “You will assassinate Governor Brownback and his family.”

Abbot pursed his lips. “And implicate President Wellman in their murders.”

“Yes. Yes. But it must be a dramatic display, one that nobody would mistake as anyone other than the federal government.”

“I will send Inquisitors. They will paint the governor’s mansion in blood.”

“No. You will handle it personally. Show Brownback your power.”

Chapter 3: The Death at The Governor’s Mansion

A week later, Governor Brownback strolled down hallways of the Governor’s Mansion, newly constructed after the old one had been destroyed during the Food Riots of 2025. Many complained about its size. The original was a two-floor dwelling, modest in design, while this one was a massive compound lined by moats and high walls. All this came with a hefty price tag, not easily justified in an era where America was suffering under a depression, but the Governor would here none of that. No price was too small when it came to his family’s safety.

Brownback turned a corner and noted lights coming from the barracks outside. Two hundred men called it home, there to protect him should the populace rebel again. Their presence soothed his otherwise fraught nerves. No one could get him here.

Brownback entered his study and reached for a bottle of scotch on his desk. “TV, on.”

The voice of a newscaster blared behind him. “Ming One, China’s first manned mission to Mars, reached the planet in seventeen days, a new record made possible thanks to Russian-powered antimatter rockets. In other news, the United States’ economy lost another hundred thousand jobs this month, a slight improvement over last month’s job numbers—”

“Change to a different channel,” Brownback said before taking a shot of his whiskey.

“With rumors swirling that the price of wheat is about to rise as much as 130%, protest have erupted in cities across the country. Several governors have hired additional law enforcement personnel, fearful of a repeat of the Food Riots of 2025 that—”

“Television, off,” Brownback said, then gulped down another shot. “America’s economy is a dumpster fire, and people actually expect me to save—”

An explosion roared in the distance. Brownback gazed north. Five Apache helicopters flew overhead. Rockets erupted from missile racks.

“What in God’s name? How can we be under attack? Who would dare—”

The door behind him burst open. Brownback turned and saw his head of security, Tom Harper, as well as several other agents, run in and form a circle around him.

“Governor, get down,” Tom said. He spoke into his wristwatch. “The Governor has been located and secured. Teams, form a defensive perimeter around the complex.”

“What about my wife and kids?” Brownback asked. “Are they alright?”

“Agent Mandy has them. She’s taking them to the basement.” He turned to another agent. “Jerry, manned the window. The rest of you: guard the entrance.”

Jerry bolted to the window and looked out, while the others left the room.

“Who the Hell is attacking us?” Brownback asked. “Who has Apaches?”

“We don’t know yet, governor.” Tom glanced at Jerry. “Agent, what do you see? Is it safe for us to move the governor to the underground bunker?”

“Um… um…” A bright light pierced the windows. “Um, no. Not even close.”

Brownback peeked up, just high enough to see out the window. The light came from a searchlight bolted onto the side of a Blackhawk helicopter.

More Blackhawk helicopters descended and landed on the front lawn. Soldiers in Special Forces uniforms got out and fired on his security detail. Sniper rifles on rooftops went off, but then the Apache helicopters returned fire and silenced them with rockets.

The Special Forces operatives moved forward, using trees, shrubbery, and statues as cover while they unleashed suppressing fire. A rocket launcher blossomed and ejected a missile. An explosion lit up the landscape beyond, as well as the interior of his study.

“Damn, this place is turning into a war zone,” Jerry said. “Where’s the police? SWAT?”

Tom picked up the landline on the desk and dialed out. “Jackie, what the Hell is going on? We need more… Hello? Hello?” He put the phone down. “The landline’s been cut.” He reached for his cell phone. “Zero bars? Damn, they must be jamming us.”

Brownback trembled as another eruption rocked the building. “My wife and kids—” He paused. A new helicopter approached and touched down on the lawn.

Brownback squinted. A single occupant, a man in a business suit, got out. “What the Hell?”

***

Franklin Huntsmen directed five dozen men towards the mansion’s foyer, a multi-story gathering hall with a second floor held up by white marble pillars and a fountain located at the room’s center. Water cascaded down its sides, a mermaid lying on top, while moonlight poured through the sunroof, bathing the fountain in a shimmering halo.

Franklin ordered his men to position themselves along the second and third floors’ railings and waited, their rifles aimed at the doors that opened to the courtyard.

Those doors parted, and a single combatant walked in, dressed in a striped business suit.

Franklin frowned. Was the guy clutching a long sword?

“Drop the weapon,” he cried.

The combatant gazed back at him with a granite stare. What was wrong with this guy?

“Don’t make me repeat myself. My men will use lethal force. Now drop it. Drop it now.”

“Is he crazy?” one of his men whispered. “Who brings a sword to a gun fight?”

The combatant continued to stare at them, defiant, even as the sound of gunfire could be heard wailing outside, a constant reminder of the real threat.

Fuck it, Franklin thought. They didn’t have time for this. “Open fire, men. Take him down.”

The combatant brought up his sword and intercepted several bullets. The rest failed to reach him, their trajectories having changed directions, as if an invisible hand held them and guided the projectiles back to their senders, enlisting cries and curses. Then the combatant moved towards the stairs, his sword hand a blur as he maintained his defense. He made a gesture at one soldier, a seasoned agent armed with a submachine gun, and the man flew towards him. A flick of the wrist, and swish, the corpse tumbled across the room in two halves.

“Keep firing,” Franklin screamed over the roar of his own submachine gun. “Don’t stop!”

Franklin turned. Jim and Bradford gasped as electrical wires erupted from the walls and lifted them up by their necks, their limbs flailing aimlessly.

Franklin jerked his head, rattled by a horrid cry. One of his men tumbled down a flight of stairs as the combatant ascended it, still batting bullets aside.

“Don’t let him get closer,” Franklin shouted and resumed firing. “Shoot him. Shoot him.”

An agent stepped in front of him and leveled his grenade launcher. The grenade detonated off an invisible wall .the combatant seemed to project with a gesture.

Franklin yelped, startled when the explosion flew backward and engulfed his men.

“This isn’t possible. None of this is possible. We’re getting slaughtered here.”

Franklin dashed down the hallway, the pleas of his dying men following his every step.

“Form a line,” he said to the six who were guarding the door. “This is where we make our last stand. We can’t let him reach the govenor.”

Back down the hallway, his men bellowed and wailed as more electrical wires exploded out of the walls and sliced them into cubes of meat.

Franklin raised his submachine gun. “Eat lead, motherfucker! Ahhhhhhhhhhh!”

****

Inside the governor’s office, cries could be heard reverberating from beyond the doorway, inhuman shrills that Brownback didn’t believe a man could make. What was going on out there? Who the hell was attacking them? Trembling, he soiled himself.

Then it went quiet. No more guns went off. No more sounds of men dying. Just silence. A dreadful silence ended by the chattering of his teeth.

“Wait here, Governor.” Tom crept towards the door, his pistol drawn. “Franklin, did you get the—" He and Jerry rose into the air, blood gushing from their orifices.

Their corpses shriveled and plopped to the floor, and the door swung open.

Brownback examined the dead before turning his gaze to the entrance. The man that he had seen earlier, the one in the striped business suit, with a trimmed beard, oily raven hair and emerald eyes, stood just beyond the doorway. With a sword in one hand, he tugged at his suit’s sleeves with the other. “Hello, Governor. Are you enjoying your evening?”

Brownback jittered. “W-who are you? What did you just do to my men?”

The man navigated around Tom’s corpse as he made his approach. “My name is Abbot Pavlovich, and I killed your men with telekinesis.”

Brownback reached for the pistol he hid in his desk and aimed. "Stay back! You hear me?”

A smile formed on Abbot’s lips, followed by a chuckle. “Why such hostility?”

“Why?” The pistol rattled in Brownback’s hand. “You attack my home, murder my men with…with that telekinesis thingy of yours and you ask me why?”

“I am merely a servant of our Lord, Jesus, here to bring the good news about salvation.”

“And Tom and the others? What did you bring them save death?”

Abbot shrugged. “Well, as the saying goes, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.”

With eye’s closed, Brownback pulled the trigger. Bang.

One second. Two seconds, and still no sound of a body smacking against the floor. Shivering, Brownback peaked out, only to gasped as he realized the bullet was hovering in mid-air, just inches from Abbot’s nose. He moved it aside with a finger. “Tisk, tisk. Was that really necessary? And here I thought we were having a pleasant conversation.”

Abbot made a gesture, and Brownback’s desk catapulted sideways, clearing all obstacles between them. Then he twisted his hand and Brownback flew towards him.

Dangling a foot off the ground, Brownback stared into Abbot’s eyes. He dropped the pistol and mumbled, “Please, let my wife and kids go. Kill me but leave them alone.”

Abbot drew closer. “Oh, I wish I could. Truly, but you see, Governor, I need you and your family to help me save America and the world.”

Chapter 4: The Morning After

Heather Wethermain got the call at four in the morning. Suffering a hangover, she had an extra cup of coffee and took a cold shower. Then she got dressed and headed for the state legislator. She was only starting to come to when the swearing-in ceremony transpired two hours later, and now she was acting governor and being whisked away towards the crime scene in the governor’s limo, with an escort of patrol cars and police helicopters in tow.

As she neared the governor’s mansion, smoke became visible, rising over its crumbled walls. Heather placed a hand to her mouth. “It’s even worse than I thought.”

The limo turned into the driveway and passed the main gate. Holes lined the walls, and police vehicles were parked to one side. Officers took pictures, while more drew outlines around bodies. Her limo came to a stop at the front entrance, and she got out.

Heather gazed forward and gasped. The severed heads of Governor Brownback, his wife, and three daughters were skewed on pikes like totem poles.

She closed her eyes, tears escaping despite her best efforts.

A police officer wearing plain clothing walked up to her and offered her a hand. “Madam Governor, I’m Detective Holloway. I’m leading this investigation.”

Heather took his hand, yet her eyes remained glued on the heads. “Hello, detective.”

Holloway glanced over his shoulder. “Gruesome. The youngest was seven. I’ve seen a lot in my time on the force, but this…” He sighed. “This is something else.”

“I knew them. That seven-year-old dreamed of becoming a ballerina.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I meant no offense.”

“None taken. Do you have any idea who might have been behind this?”

Holloway grimaced. “I’ve got guys reviewing the security footage as we speak. Much of it appears to be corrupted, possibly done deliberately, but what little footage we could salvage shows people in military gear, backed up by Blackhawk and Apache helicopters, attacking the mansion and killing everyone inside before leaving with their dead.”

Heather frowned. “If the footage was corrupted, why would any of it have survived?”

He gave her a perplexed look. “Your guess is as good as mine. Normally I would say sloppiness, but everything else about this raid suggests—”

“Detective.” An officer exited the mansion, ran down some steps and approached them. “Sir, we’ve just matched several of the unknown DNA samples.”

“That was fast,” Heather said. “I thought that would take days, maybe even weeks.”

“New DNA scanners. Almost makes the people at forensic useless.”

“I’ll take your word for it, officer,” Heather said. “So, what does it say?”

The officer handed her a datapad. She examined the face on it, her right eyebrow raising. “Major Richard Wilcock, currently assigned to Delta Force.”

Holloway extended a hand. “Madam Governor, if I may?”

“Of course, detective. This is your investigation after all. What do you make of it?”

Holloway eyed the device. “Well, according to this, all of the previously unidentified DNA samples collected belong to active Delta Force members.”

“There’s something else,” the officer said. “We’ve been reviewing the video footage from the battle and managed to id one of the Blackhawk helicopters.”

“And does this mean you know who it belongs to?” Heather asked.

“Yes, ma’am. The United States military.”

“Officer Michel, how can you be sure?” Holloway asked.

“Every government issued helicopter has a registration number painted on its tail. This one matches a Blackhawk assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”

“My daughter was posted to Fort Bragg once,” Heather said. “It’s the HQ of Delta Force.”

Holloway turned to Heather and held up a hand. “Madam Governor, we’ve only begun our investigation. Let’s not jump to any conclusions.”

Heather panned and scanned the ruined landscape. “You’re right, detective. Still, all evidence points to the federal government being behind this. And if that turns out to be the case, then the President of the United States has just declared war on California.”

Chapter 5: The Grand Experiment Has Failed

Three months had passed, and Heather found herself in the center of a political shit storm. Biblical World Tribune, owned by a fellow governor, Gregory di Conti, was the first to report that the federal government might have been behind the attack and just hours after it. The speed of their reporting caught everyone by surprise. At the behest of Detective Holloway, Heather refused to comment, waiting instead for him to complete his investigation.

Things deteriorated rapidly. More news organizations began reporting the claim, and all eyes turned to her for answers. Heather had none. Protests erupted in cities throughout the state. Some devolved into riots, entire neighborhoods burned, hundreds left dead, and she was left with no choice but to declare martial law and send in the national guard.

Information about the investigation leaked like a broken water main. Again, the most accurate details came from the Biblical World Tribune. Tales of men strangled by electrical wires. Others being hacked to pieces. None of it made sense, and yet it was all true.

Tensions continue to ratchet up. Then two and half months into the investigation, Lieutenant General Mike Ditmore, head of Joint Special Operations Command, was arrested by the FBI, and charged with forging presidential orders to attack the governor’s mansion.

Heather had hoped that his arrest would bring an end to the crisis, but instead, Biblical World Tribune ran yet another story, this one proclaiming that Ditmore had been set up by the Wellman administration. Having already been vindicated in their original story about the murders, many believed them. Even larger riots broke out, and thousands died.

Now Heather found herself walking down the halls of the state legislator, her daughter in tow. “Mom, think about what you are about to do. This could lead to war.”

“Sweetheart, President Wellman declared war the second he ordered Phil’s execution.”

Samantha shook her head. “He claims Ditmore gave the order, not him. A special prosecutor has been assigned to determine who is at fault.”

“And in the meantime, America is going to burn to the ground, with us along with it.” Heather picked up her pace. “Right now, we have the largest military in the union, not to mention the West Coast Orbital Défense Network. If we break off today, several other states might join us. President Wellman won’t stop us, not if he’s facing revolts in the other states.”

“Don’t be too sure. He will go to any length to save America. Don’t push him.”

“Save America?” Heather huffed and turned a corner. “America’s dead. It has been dying for decades. Why can’t you or the President see that?”

Heather stopped and twirled, pinged by remorse. She grabbed her daughter’s chin and said, “Sweetheart, I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but I need you. Can I expect your support in the days to come? Can we be a family again? For your father’s memory.”

“I’m… I’m sorry, Mom, but my allegiances are to the United States.”

Heather withdrew her hand. “Then perhaps it’s best you leave California.”

Samantha’s face contorted in pain. “If… if you believe that’s for the best.”

Emotions swirled within Heather. She stared at her daughter, tormented and not wanting to say the next two words that would end their relationship, perhaps forever. What she would give to keep this moment frozen in time, but the moment passed. “I do.”

Samantha sniffled and wiped her eyes before nodding. “Okay. I will go. Goodbye… mother.”

Heather watched her daughter stroll off. A teardrop scrolled down her cheek, and she barely caught it in time. She brought it up to examine it.

A hand grasped her shoulder. “Give her time. She’ll come back.”

Heather turned to find Rick staring at her. She withdrew, fearful of embracing him, of showing weakness. “I… should get going. I… have a speech to make.”

Rick smiled fondly. “Of course, Governor. The legislature is waiting for you.”

Rick escorted Heather to the door leading into the state legislator. He didn’t follow as she made her way to the podium customarily reserved for the Speaker.

Heather paused, collected her thoughts, and said, “To the good people of California, the time for unity has passed. Once, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what he and the other Founding Fathers had created: a monarchy or a republic, and he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Well, now we know the answer to that statement, and it is a definitive no.

“The system of checks and balances that our Founding Fathers put in place have failed us. Washington no longer serves the interests of the common man, only the wealthy and party elites. I see no point in maintaining this façade. It is broken, and it can never be fixed. The only recourse for the people of California is to leave the union. Forever.”

***

A day had passed since Governor Weatherman’s proclamation. Supreme Inquisitor Abbot and Grand Inquisitor Gregory di Conti walked down a corridor. Both were dressed in suits instead of their traditional black robes, and Abbot felt a little exposed without his hood up. He’d become so accustomed to concealing his immortal appearance. It didn’t seem right.

“I’ve ordered the Biblical World Tribune to air another hit piece,” di Conti said. “We’ll call Wellman a coward for waiting so long to issue a direct statement.”

“Be careful with your words,” Abbot said. “You don’t want to come across as eager for war.”

“No, not until hostilities start. Then I will paint myself as the one most willing to bring this conflict to a conclusion while portraying Wellman as feckless and weak.”

“Which will set you up nicely for your presidential run.” Abbot nodded, then stared forward and let out a sigh. “I feel bad about throwing Grand Inquisitor Ditmore under the bus, but once we get you elected President, you can pardon him of all criminal wrongdoings.”

“I don’t like it either, but the good general had to take the fall. The public must not become aware of us or that we had Brownback assassinated.”

“True. Still, Mike is a good man and a strong defender of Christ.”

“Most people see him as a martyr. They will welcome his release.”

Abbot nodded. They reached a window at the far side of the hallway. Beyond stood the city of Columbia, South Carolina, di Conti’s hometown. Abbot eyed thousands of protestors marching down the main street and near the courthouse, waving either Confederate flags or American flags. Some held up the California state flag, but they all were burning.

Abbot clasped his hands behind his back. “Fractures are forming along old fault lines, just as the Holy One foresaw. When President Wellman declares war, it will be liberals versus conservatives, Republicans versus Democrats. We will finish what our ancestors started, but this time, the South will be victorious, and we will forge an even more perfect union.”

“Yes,” di Conti said, “one that is based on Christian values, and where the Negros and the other lesser races will know their rightful place: beneath our boots.”

Chapter 6: War!

Five weeks had passed. Samantha walked down the main street in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a city that was home to Fort Bragg, the headquarters for the Army's Special Forces unit, Delta Force. She had moved there after accepting reassignment to the elite group.

Few knew that she was a native of California, let alone the daughter of the most hated person in America, and Samantha worked hard to keep it that way. She rarely interacted with people, but when she did, discussions inevitably turned towards the upcoming war.

It seemed surreal to Samantha that war was a foregone conclusion. Yet that was the opinion of almost everyone she talked too, and scarier, many were looking forward to it. Many saw it as a chance to redeem America by cleansing the filth they believed had cost them the last one. Few even saw her fellow Californians as human beings, people who were just trying to make a living and feed their families, but instead, as cockroaches that needed to be crushed.

After buying coffee at one of the twelve remaining coffee shops in Fayetteville, she headed to the military base. She recalled how Dad would take her around the fort he commanded, and the awe and wonder she felt as she watched trained soldiers honed their skills. As she entered Fort Bragg, a part of her reconnected to that simpler time, and yet the emotions were tainted by the realization that she might be called upon to waged war against the people she loved.

Samantha brought her car to a stop. Soldiers were making their way to the mess hall. She got out and ran towards one. “What is going on, soldier?”

“The President is addressing the nation,” the man said, and he jogged towards the building. Samantha followed. They entered the mess hall to find everyone gathered underneath a giant LED screen, with the President’s address already underway.

President Wellman stood behind his desk in the Oval Office. “…greaves me that it has come to this, that we could not find common ground to address our differences peacefully, but I cannot in good conscience allow our nation to be torn asunder. As of two o'clock this afternoon, I have sent word to Governor Wethermain that the United States of America is at war with the State of California and any other state or nation that provides it with assistance of any kind.”

Most of the soldiers in the mess hall raised their fists and cheered. Samantha’s breath quickened, a sense of vertigo overtaking her.

“This can’t be happening,” she whispered. “This cannot be happening.”

“Damn right it’s happening,” the guy beside her said. “We’ll grind those traitors to dust.”

Lieutenant General Steve Maloriak walked into the room. Everyone went stiff and saluted.

Maloriak returned the gesture. “At ease, people. I know you’re all excited to get out there and take the fight to the enemy, but remember, we’re professionals. We cannot allow emotions to influence our judgment. I expect every one of you to remember that.”

An officer raised a hand. “Sir, is Delta Force going to be sent into battle anytime soon?”

“First,” Maloriak said, “let me state that the President doesn’t hold all of Delta Force responsible for General Ditmore’s actions regarding the death of Brownback. While I can’t give any details yet, rest assured that Delta Force will be part of the spear’s tip.”

The group asked the general several more questions, and he answered them. Afterward, he approached Samantha. "Major, I would like to speak with you in my office.”

Samantha gulped. Did he presume her of being a traitor like her mother? “I’ll comply, sir.”

Samantha followed the general to the building next door to the mess hall. They climbed a flight of stairs before entering the man’s office. Maloriak walked over to a wall and removed a picture. “I thought you would be interested in seeing this.”

He handed Samantha the photograph. It was a picture of the general and Dad.

Maloriak took a seat behind his desk. “I served under your father during the War of the Sands as part of the U.N. Taskforce’s Alpha Team.”

“That was the elite multinational Special Forces unit.”

“Yes. Our job was to go deep behind enemy lines and stick it to the Islamic Caliphate and their Saudi masters. It was we who destroyed the antimatter assembler in Yemen. Your dad was as ballsy as they got. I was stateside when the nukes fell.”

Samantha examined the photograph, her fingers tracing her father’s dashing face.

Maloriak leaned forward on his desk. “I know this cannot be easy for you, and it will only get worse once you find yourself on the battlefield.”

Samantha looked up. “Sir, my loyalty is first and foremost to the United States.”

“I would expect nothing less from the daughter of General Wethermain.” He frowned. “Look. I can have you reassigned if you like, at least until hostilities are over.”

Samantha eyed her father’s photo again. What would Dad do? “I’m grateful, general, but my place is here. Someone has to stop my mother’s madness.”

“And if I ordered you to arrest, even assassinate her, would you do it?”

Again, Samantha stared at her father. What would he do? "As I said, sir, my allegiances are to Uncle Sam and President Wellman so yes.”

“Good. Good. You are dismissed, major.”

Samantha got up and handed the photo back to the general before exiting his office. She ran for several miles, then leaned against a tree and began sobbing.

“Mother, what have you brought down upon us? What are we going to do?”

***

A few minutes later, Maloriak worked on his laptop and typed a proposal to the Joint Chiefs of Staff regarding Delta Force’s role in the invasion. A phone buzzed on his desk. He picked it up and answered, “This is General Maloriak speaking. Who’s calling?”

“High Inquisitor Maloriak, how goes your mission?” Supreme Inquisitor Abbot asked.

“Wonderful, master. I just had a chat with Major Samantha Wethermain.”

“Governor Wethermain’s daughter? Interesting. How did it go?”

“Good. I think she will serve our plans nicely.”

Chapter 7: Operation Enduring Diligence

September 26th, 2027. Day 1 of C-Day, Operation Enduring Diligence.

Samantha sat in the rear cabin of a Seahawk, a replacement for the aging Blackhawk helicopter.

The tiltjet aircraft swayed side to side, the Golden Gate Bridge visible from the port hatch. She poked her head out and scanned the landscape.

The City of San Francisco loomed to the south, a majestic metropolis of shimmering skyscrapers and green parks that until today had never known conflict. Warships dotted its harbor, and they exchanged gunfire, missiles, and invisible laser beams.

Projectiles from mobile railguns sailed past, almost clipping one of the Seahawk’s wings. Flak shells detonated on either side of the aircraft, a dazzling, if also deadly display. One hit a slower moving Blackhawk, and the craft spun out of control.

Samantha leaned back and turned to her men. “Listen up. Our objective is City Hall. We are to storm it with the help of the 36th Texas Infantry Division and capture the mayor.”

“And force him to get his forces to stand down and surrender the city,” one of her men said.

“Exactly. Command wants this done as quickly as possible.”

“Let’s hope he’s not too cooperative. I’ve got some godless Californians to torch,” Sergeant Blair Hasting said, a man encased in seven-foot-nine powered armor. He kneeled in the cabin, his right hand cradling a heavy machine gun with a built-in flamethrower.

Samantha frowned. “We are still required to uphold the Military Code and the Geneva Conventions. I expect you all to conduct yourselves by them.”

“Those aren’t God’s laws,” countered Hasting. “Leviticus says all His enemies must die.”

"Do that, and I'll have you court-martialed.”

“What kind of Christian are you, ma’am?”

“The kind that doesn’t commit war crimes. I don’t want to hear about Leviticus. America isn’t governed by it. We follow the Constitution. Understood?”

“But, those bastards cost us the War of the Sands. Israel was destroyed!”

“I don’t care. We aren’t war criminals. Are we going to have a problem, sergeant?”

Hasting brooded. “No, ma’am. We’re not.”

“Good. Then double check your gear and prepare yourself to debark.”

Samantha turned, bothered by the man’s attitude. Should she order him to stay behind? There were few trained in the use of powered armor, suits that gave the wearer the strength of a rhino, as well as immunity to small arms fire. If she told him to remain, she would be depriving her team of a powerful asset. That could cost her lives, even the mission.

Samantha exhaled. She didn’t have the luxury to order him to stay back. She would just have to keep an eye on Hasting and hope she didn’t come to regret it.

Moments later, the Seahawk descended on the Presidio, a park on the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. More Seahawks landed, and more marines debarked. Behind them, Abram and Bradley tanks rolled up the shoreline, followed by Paterson Walking Destroyers.

The Patersons lumbered forward on bird-like legs, bigger than Abram tanks. Their single 140mm rear mounted cannons roared, while their arm cannons spat out 30mm bullets at hyper velocities. Rockets blossomed from the side of their arms.

The large autonomous drones left three toe impressions in the grass and dirt. Samantha darted beneath one, its belly five feet above her helmet.

Hasting and those suited up in powered armor moved ahead of her. They soaked up enemy bullets with their battle shields and fired back with their machine guns. They pressed the attack, the enemy unable to hold the beach, and a general retreat was issued.

Hasting fired his heavy machine gun into the backs of those fleeing the battle.

Samantha raised a hand. “Sergeant, that’s enough.”

He downed two more enemy combatants before stopping. “You just have to ruin my day.”

“We’re here to take back the city, not rack up kills. Is that understood, soldier?”

“Yeah.” Hasting slung his rifle over his shoulder. “You’re such a buzz kill.”

Samantha shook her head, her teeth grinding together as she led her unit forward. “And, I thought my mother was a handful.”

***

Heather Wethermain sat behind her desk in the governor’s office. Her generals and senior staff watched a live feed of the Battle of San Francisco. Three of America’s remaining carrier groups blockaded the coastal city and bombarded it with artillery fire.

General Rob Netherwear pointed to a map. “Governor, the enemy is attempting to surround us with a classic pincer maneuver. A large ground force is coming down Interstate Eighty and capturing the smaller counties on their way to the capital, while a fleet of several destroyers and three aircraft carriers besiege San Francisco. Once it falls, several divisions of tanks and light infantry will likely drive up the Eighty and hit us from the south.”

Netherwear indicated at a lower part of the map. “The enemy has also sent a much smaller fleet to harass our forces stationed at Los Angeles.”

Heather bit her lip. “Which prevents them from sending reinforcements.”

“Yes, unless you want to forfeit our largest city,” Netherwear said.

Heather grabbed for a cup of coffee, having given up alcohol since declaring independence and gulped it down. "What about the other states? Any word from them?”

Netherwear frowned. “Most of the armies attacking us belong to the southern states, plus those directly under President Wellman’s command. So far, they have offered Washington no support, but neither have they barred them from using their airspace or roads.”

Heather leaned back in her chair and tapped her fingers against the table. “They’re waiting to see how we fair. If we can hold our own, some might join us.”

Heather got up and headed for the window. She looked out at the streets beyond, citizens going about their daily lives, seemingly oblivious to the fact that a hundred miles away a battle raged, one that would determine whether their communities became the next war zone.

She grabbed the cross neckless that dangled from her neck and said, “If the other states don’t decide to get into the fight soon, our revolution won’t last a month.”

***

Back in San Francisco, Samantha ducked as machine gun fire zipped past her. She snuggled up against a wall, her military rifle raised. Hasting, still encased in his powered armor, strutted past her and deflected incoming fire with his battle shield.

Samantha popped up, using Hasting as mobile cover, and fired in control burst. She zinged an enemy soldier in the left eye and moved forward.

She placed a finger against her helmet. “Command, we’ve got enemy snipers on the roofs.”

“Roger, Zulu Omega,” the operator said. “Redirecting a UAV to provide air support. Over.”

Propellers buzzed overhead. An unmanned helicopter with a sniper rifle built into its airframe came into view. It took several pot shots at the northwest building’s upper floors. Men fell from it, their bodies becoming a smear on the pavement below.

A rocket flew towards the UAV, and the drone exploded.

“Well, it got rid of the sniper fire.” Samantha examined a LED screen on her wrist, which displayed a map of the city. According to it, they were five blocks from City Hall.

Samantha scanned north and frowned. A group of enemy Abram tanks strolled down the street. They pounded away at her unit’s position. She hid back behind the wall. Even Hasting retreated, his heavy machine gun useless against their armor.

Boom. Boom. Samantha glanced over her shoulder. Two Paterson Destroyers walked up the road. Their cannons bellowed, hitting with the force of mortars shells. Their arm cannons spat out 30mm rounds and tore the enemy's armor to shred.

Samantha gestured down the street. “Move through the gap.”

With the support of the Patersons, she and her unit navigated deeper toward the city’s interior. They reached City Hall ten minutes later. Built in the Roman style, it had a pointed dome at its center. They stormed up the steps and bashed the door. Guards fired at them, but Hasting deflected their bullets with his shield and dosed them with his flamethrower. The security officers flailed and wailed before toppling over.

Hasting heft his heavy machine gun. “That’s what I call barbecue. Yum. Yum.”

"You're a sadist, Hasting," Samantha said. "Okay, everyone. The mayor is in here somewhere. Remember, I want him alive and unharmed, Understood?"

“Yes, ma’am,” her teammates said, with the exception being Hasting.

Samantha turned to the sergeant. “Hasting, do you understand? No barbecue.”

“Yeah. Yeah. We take him in alive and unharmed. Spoilsport."

Samantha steamed, but readied her rifle and moved forward. She led her team up the stairs to the second floor. There they headed to the end of the hallway and entered the mayor’s office. He cowered behind his desk, his hands trembling over his head.

“I surrender. I said I surrendered. Please, don’t kill me.”

Samantha walked up to him and bound his arms together. “I wouldn’t dream of it. Besides, you have a date with a courtroom. You’ll answer for your treason.”

***

A few hours later, Heather sat at her desk; her attention focused on the written statement she would soon be making. Her speechwriter stood beside her and pointed to the paper. "I've taken care to emphasize California's resolve, that we will continue to fight despite the defeat we suffered at San Francisco. You'll find some of Churchill in the—”

Heather raised a hand. “Yes, yes, Bob. I know of your love of Churchill.”

“He was a great orator. Some say that his speeches alone saved England from the Nazis.”

Heather tapped her fingers against the table. “I don’t think speeches will save us this time.”

“Governor, did you think we could stand up to Washington?”

Heather frowned. She’d asked herself that same question again and again in the last twenty-four hours. Was it hubris on her part to secede? Was she naïve to think that President Wellman would just let her walk away, or that the other states would intervene?

Heather got up and headed to the window. Her people looked to her for leadership. Had she failed them? Had she doomed them to a bloody and humiliating defeat?

She gripped her neckless. “I don’t know anymore. I thought I did. I thought we could—”

Rick burst into the room and reached for the monitor. “Heather, you need to see this.”

He hit the power button, and an anchorwoman appeared on the screen, her daughter’s face beside the lady. "She's being called the Hero of San Francisco, and her name is Major Samantha Wethermain, daughter to the traitorous California governor, but this soldier knows where her loyalties lie. It was her unit that captured San Francisco’s mayor.”

Heather headed to her seat and plopped down. “My own flesh and blood seeks to destroy me.”

Chapter 8: You Are National Hero

A week later, Supreme Inquisitor Abbot and Grand Inquisitor Gregory di Conti eyed a portrait of Supreme Inquisitor John Rousas Rushdoony, one of the most influential Cabalists of the 20th century. He had brought their ideology, which before was whispered only behind closed doors, into the daylight when he published The Institutes of Biblical Law.

“A shame Rousas didn’t get to live to see this day,” Abbot said as he stared at his portrait.

“I’m not sure Rousas would have approved,” di Conti said. “He thought that the Kingdom of God could and should be created without resorting to a coup.”

“That’s where I believe Rousas was a little naive,” Abbot said. “Even if we could convince, oh, let’s say, ninety percent of the population to join our cause, that still leaves thirty-five million who must be put to the sword, or we would be guilty of violating God’s Law-Words ourselves.

“And we’re just talking about America. If we go and apply that to the world, we’re looking at killing at a minimum seven hundred million people. No, military conquest is the only viable path to world domination, and if billions must die to save humanity, so be it.”

His subordinate nodded and followed Abbot down the corridor. More portraits lined the wall, all former Supreme Masters or Supreme Inquisitors, including such giants as Jefferson Davis, Martin Luther, Tomas de Torquemada, Ivan IV Vasilyevich, Vlad III Dracula, Jeffery di Conti and the order’s founder, Hugues de Payens. Gazing up at these titans of old humbled Abbot, reaffirming his commitment to ensuring his deeds were worthy of their legacy.

The two traversed several hallways and entered a large hanger. Inquisitors hung from metal crosses in rows of a hundred, sleeping until the time they were needed.

Di Conti stared up at them. “I must admit, master: High Inquisitor Maloriak was right about Major Wethermain. She has become quite the celebrity.”

“She would be even more so if she would appear on late night talk shows.”

“I’ve discussed that with High Inquisitor Maloriak. He can be most convincing.”

“Good. Good. A shame she is a woman, or we might have a place for her in our order.”

“Not since the days when we Cabalists were part of the Illuminati did we allow women into our ranks. Of course, we were far more secular back then.”

“Yes, let’s not speak of those heretics. The Illuminati are a blemish to the Knights Templar’s legacy. Their devotion to democracy and religious freedom is sickening.”

“Agreed, and what they did to our brothers in the Black Hand was unforgivable."

Abbot sneered. “Once we’ve conquered North America, Europe will be next. We will hunt down and slaughter every Illuminati until they are no more.”

Di Conti nodded. “I look forward to that day, master.”

“Back to Major Wethermain,” Abbot said. “I am pleased with her progress, but remember, it’s not her rise that matters. She must become a symbol of why peaceful coexistence with California is not possible, but for that to happen, she must confront her mother again.”

“And what if the major proves more loyal than we suspect?”

Abbot turned and smiled. “Then she will die and become a martyr to our cause.”

***

Two nights later, Samantha sat on the shoulders of her men. They hoisted her high, while others sprayed the air around her with champagne bottles. Some of it got on her, soaking her tank top with their bubbly contents. Cheers and jubilations accompanied the act.

Samantha snatched a champagne bottle from one of her men and downed it in a single gulp.

“To the Hero of San Francisco,” someone cried. “To the Hero of Vacaville and Davis.”

“To the United States of America,” replied Samantha.

A sharp whistle brought an end to the festivities. The group turned. Maloriak marched through the doorway of the dining hall. “Everyone, stand at attention!”

Samantha got down and joined the others in saluting the general. “Sorry for the mess, sir.”

Maloriak’s expression softened. “That’s alright, major. You and your team did good today. By capturing Davis, the way to Sacramento has been laid clear."

“Sir, when are we going to hit it and put an end to this war?” Someone asked.

“Soon,” Maloriak said. “We are just waiting for our secondary force to arrive from the north, and then we will pin these traitors within their city. They won’t escape.”

The soldier raised their drinks, and their cries echoed through the dining hall.

Samantha reached for another champagne bottle. “Sir, would you like to drink with us?”

“I’m off duty. I don’t see why not.” He grabbed it and took a shot. Everyone else went back to partying, and he and Samantha headed for a corner of the room. “I’m here to see you. We didn’t have time to talk after you’re debriefing. I was hoping to rectify that.”

Samantha blushed. The general was so direct and… well, handsome. She cringed at having such a thought. He was her superior after all, not to mention a married man. Still, the way he smiled. It just… She reined her emotions in. “What do you want to talk about, sir?”

Maloriak drew closer and stroked her cheek. Oh god, was he flirting with her? “You’re future,” he said with a dashing grin. “You’ve made quite the name for yourself.”

Samantha struggled to hide her unease and briefly looked away. "It was nothing, sir. I was simply following orders. If my mother wasn’t the governor of…”

Maloriak drew her face towards his. “But she is, and that's important. America is divided, Samantha, and not just because of the divisions your mother created. You could be the bridge that heals these wounds. You could become a symbol that people can rally behind.”

Her lips hovered a few inches from his. Her knees wobbled. She wanted to embrace him, but instead, gently pushed away. “I don’t know. I could make things worse.”

Maloriak grabbed her by the arm. “Is that why you refuse to go on talk shows?”

“I… I just imagine my mother watching me speaking ill of her on national television.”

“Your mother’s a politician. She’s used to it. What would your father do?”

Samantha grimaced. “He would do whatever was required to save America.”

“Yes, he would, and I believe you will too." Maloriak released her. “I’m going to a ball tomorrow. A lot of important people will be there. I would like you to accompany me. Impressing them would benefit your career in the long run. If that matters.”

“It does,” Samantha said. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is serve my country.”

“Then join me.” He moved away before stopping again and turned. “Oh, and find something tasteful to wear. You only make a first impression once.”

Samantha leaned against the wall and watched the general depart. Her inners twisted into little knots. She hated politics, regardless if it was the real thing or what passed for it inside the military bureaucracy. Still, could she afford to say no? No, she couldn’t.

Samantha sighed. "This is one time I wish I were still in speaking terms with Mom.”

***

A few minutes later, Maloriak exited the building and made his way to his jeep under cover of night. He opened it to find Hasting sitting in the passenger seat. He got behind the wheel and said, “Well, it seems you can follow orders, Templar Hasting.”

“You’re asking me to babysit a girl pretending to be a warrior,” Hasting snapped.

“In private, I expect you to call me High Inquisitor Maloriak. Is that understood?”

“My apologies, High Inquisitor, but you’re asking me to take orders from… a female.”

“I can understand how emasculating that must feel, and once we control America, women will again know their rightful place, but until then, you will obey her.”

Hasting grumbled. “I still don’t see the point. She’s a woman after all.”

“That is of no concern to you. Supreme Inquisitor Abbot deems her an asset, as do the Heavenly Benefactors. Ours is not to question, but to do. Understood?”

Hasting turned away and exhaled. “If the Heavenly Benefactors will it.”

“They do. Now, get out and don’t give me another reason to speak with you again. It’ll be your last.” Maloriak permitted him to leave before hitting the ignition and driving away. His thoughts dwelled on the lovely Major Wethermain. She was easy on the eyes and young, and would be more fun than his wife, who was currently going through menopause.

His phone rang. He lifted it and noted that it was the misses. He laid it back down, allowed it to ring and continued down the road, his thoughts again on Major Wethermain.

Chapter 9: The Governor

The next evening, Samantha walked into a ballroom. Having been born into wealth, she was accustomed to attending galas and similar social gatherings. Still, as she panned her head, noting an opulent hall decorated by shimmering crystal chandeliers, silk draped tables, white marble statues and utensils made only of silver that this was something special. The tables brimmed with more types of dishes than Samantha ever imagined seeing again.

She hurried past women sporting the latest styles, which made her stand out in her bland dress that’s only notable feature was that it left her shoulders bare.

A hand tapped one shoulder, causing Samantha to twirl. “Ah, general. I was looking for you.”

“I imagine,” replied Maloriak. “The ball is almost over. I know they say don’t come early, but for a while, I feared that you wouldn't come at all."

“Sorry about that, general, but the man at the door gave me a hard time.”

“I can’t see why. You look absolutely stunning.”

Samantha blushed, then scanned the crowd again, this time observing that many of the women wore jewelry that she could see easily costing millions.

After a long pause, she said, “You seem to be the only one.”

Maloriak took her hand and led her into the crowd. "Don't take it personally. There are many here who don't believe you have accomplished anything in life until you make your first billion. I know one who won’t respect you until you become a trillionaire.”

“A trillionaire,” Samantha said and chuckled. “It’s hard to believe we have any.”

“Several actually. While most Americans might languish under the weight of this depression, the rich flourish, particularly now that hostilities have commenced.”

Samantha turned and wondered who among the crowd were military contractors.

“I bet. So, general, I’m a little shocked. I thought I would be meeting your wife.”

“Jasmin?” Maloriak coughed. “Yes, well, our marriage has hit a… a rough spot.”

Samantha peered into his eyes, her heart thawing. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Maloriak patted her hand. "It's okay. We were once madly in love but… well, we had kids, and I was always off on deployment. I’ve tried to rekindle the romance, but…” He grimaced, heartbreak visible in his eyes. “Truth be told, I think she’s found someone else.”

Samantha gasped, unable to believe that anyone could lose interest in this stunning man. “Well, if that’s true, then I would say you’re better off without her.”

Maloriak nodded and looked away. “Sometimes I wonder that as well.” He paused. “Anyways, I didn’t bring you here to bemoan about my marriage. There are people I want you to meet. People who I think can help you progress further in your career.” Maloriak escorted her towards a tall, middle age man with a trimmed beard and dimpled cheeks. “Major, I would like to introduce you to the governor of South Carolina, Gregory di Conti.”

Di Conti greeted her with a smile. “It is an honor to finally meet the Hero of San Francisco.”

“No, the honor is mine, governor,” Samantha said, trying hard not to blush. “Your leadership has rallied the southern states into a cohesive and effective militia.”

“Yes, well, my leadership would not have been required if our President hadn’t taken the unconscionable step of dissolving the United States Armed Forces.”.

“He felt it was the only way to get the other world governments to lift their sanctions.”

Di Conti huffed. “Yes, and restructure our debt. But because of that decision, we now find ourselves in a situation where California felt it could break away. It won’t be successful. I won’t let it, but we could have ended their insurrection quickly if we still had a united military. I fear that the other governments demanded this hoping that we would fight among ourselves.”

Samantha squirmed, growing uneased by the direction the Governor’s talk was headed. Others were saying similar things, that the other nations were behind the war, that they were secretly supplying the Californians with arms. Canada and Mexico were chief among those being blamed, though Samantha had yet to see any proof. That didn’t stop people from suggesting that America should invade their neighbors and teach them a lesson.

That seemed particularly moronic, especially given that Canada was part of the British Commonwealth. Declaring war with it would also start hostilities with England, Pakistan, and India, three nuclear powers. The last thing the U.S. needed was another atomic war.

After a delay, Samantha said, “Well, given the vast nuclear arsenal we possess, I imagine they would view starting a civil war here a risky proposition.”

“You mean they would fear our nukes falling into the hands of terrorists,” di Conti said.

Samantha shook her head. “That or nuclear war. We were lucky that the cobalt bombs the Saudis used during the last war didn’t make the Earth uninhabitable.”

“Yes, and as it stands, the Middle East won’t be livable again for another 130 years.”

“Not even the Soviet were stupid enough to build cobalt bombs. I still don’t understand why our leaders though selling them to the Saudis was a good idea.”

“They feared the Iranians,” Maloriak interjected. “And let’s not forget that the Saudis were still our allies when the sales were made. Who would’ve thought they would turn.”

Di Conti raised a hand. “I doubt the Israelis that still live appreciate that fact. And now the prophecy of Christ’s return is delayed.” As a server drew closer, di Conti reached out and plucked a wine glass from his tray. “But onto other matters. Major, the general tells me that you are reluctant to appear on national television. Don’t you realize that you’re a symbol?”

Samantha looked away, a sense of guilt digging into her gut. “I’m… well, I’m not sure I’m what America needs. We are already divided as it is.”

“Which is why you must appear. Don’t you see? You are proof that not all Californians are traitors, that some know where their loyalties truly lie.”

Samantha thought of Mom, imagined what she would feel if she ever saw her daughter talk smack of her on live television. “I’ve… I’ve never sought fame.”

Di Conti placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s not about what we want. I didn’t want to lead the south to war, but sometimes God has plans for us.”

Samantha bit her lip, then let out a sigh. “You’re right. America needs me.”

Di Conti patted her shoulder. "Good. Forgive me, but I've got other guests to attend. It was a pleasure to meet you finally." He eyed Maloriak. "You too general."

Samantha watched di Conti leave, then Maloriak introduced her to other guests: captains of industry, four-star generals and other men of note. Afterward, they danced to the music, a band of harps and violins playing in the background. Her eyes never left his, his strong hands grasping hers as they twirled in a circle and enjoyed the moment.

When the ball had ended, and the guests were made to leave, they went for a drive and talked. They ignored the subject of Maloriak’s failed marriage.

Their journey took them to a hotel where they made love for the rest of the evening.

***

The next morning, Maloriak awoke refreshed and rejuvenated. He turned to see Samantha resting beside him, her long blonde hair all that covered her athletic body. He caressed it before getting up and dressing himself. He left a note explaining that he was called in. He wasn’t too concerned with how that might look. She was hardly the best sex he ever had, though he would grant that she had plenty of energy. Still, he might want to tap her again.

Maloriak departed the hotel and stretched his arms. The sun had only peeked over the horizon, his convertible’s green finish sparkling beneath it.

He got in, and his phone beeped. A text message? Couldn’t be his wife then. A cursory examination informed him that it was from another mistress: Samantha Hill.

Samantha Hill. Samantha. Having two mistresses named Samantha could get dicey. Then again, he once dated identical twins, the two barely fourteen. He never had trouble telling them apart, nor their mother, who he was also sleeping with at the time.

“I wonder what Samantha was like when she was fourteen,” he mused aloud.

Maloriak shrugged, then put the car in reverse, backed up and drove away from the hotel.

Chapter 10: The Final Battle

Three weeks later, Samantha sat in the hold of a Seahawk. She scratched at the neural port located in the back of her skull, the interface that connected her nervous system with the mechanical limbs that enabled her to move in the one-thousand-pound suit. It had only been installed a week ago, and the outer lining continued to irate her skin. The doctors said that the sensation would go away in time, that soon she wouldn’t notice it.

She snarled when she felt another maddening itch and thought, first, they drag me onto all the late-night shows, then they turn me into a cyborg.

Samantha exhaled, reminding herself that she agreed to this. Powered armor was all the rage these days. It turned scrawny men into mighty superheroes, able to lift cars over their heads. The bigwigs in Washington wanted to hype her up, make her look larger than life, and what better way to do that then encase her in a seven-foot-nine suit of nearly indestructible body armor. It also had the added benefit of protecting her ass while on the battlefield.

Thinking about the surgery reminded Samantha of her relationship with General Maloriak. It was during one of their ‘excursions' that he had talked her into it. Samantha felt terrible about their situation. She understood that he had grown dissatisfied with his marriage and that he probably wasn’t in love with her, just seeking companionship. Still, Maloriak could get in a lot of trouble and not just with his wife. It was against regulations to date a junior officer.

Complicating the matter was that Samantha wasn’t sure she was in love with him. That should make it easier, but it didn’t. Did she have the right to jeopardize his career for a fling?

Samantha sighed, storing that conundrum for another time, then reached down and plucked up a tablet. It displayed a map of the city, as well as a portrait of her mother.

“Okay, men, this is it. Sacramento. We’ve all been working towards this. If we can capture the Governor...” Samantha paused. She’d just referred to her mother by her title, but what else could she do? Mom was the target. She had to bring her in or failing that take her out. What kind of daughter did that? No, she couldn’t indulge such thoughts. She was a soldier. She had a job, and duty demanded that she carry it out. “If we capture the Governor, the war is over. Our orders are to take her in alive, but if that is not possible, we are to… neutralize her.”

The other men in the cabin glanced at each other before nodding. Did they believe her? The expression on Hasting’s face told her otherwise.

“Look. I know you have your doubts, but I’ve never failed you before. I won’t now.”

The rest nodded, convinced, except Hasting. Well, she was never going to persuade him.

Samantha shrugged and looked out a port window. The Seahawk flew over the Sacramento River, the remains of the Tower Bridge smoldering below. Rows of Paterson Destroyers stood in the neighboring Raley Field and lobbed 140mm shells across it. The rounds detonated against the sides of buildings, shattering glass, melting steel and spraying concrete.

The Seahawk came low, banking right as it dodged a ground-to-air missile, the projectile a blur as it sped past the port window and continued onwards.

“Okay, people, we’re about to land,” Samantha cried. “Ready yourselves.”

She went for her battle shield and lifted it with her left arm. An LED screen on the shield’s interior flickered to life, creating the illusion that it was see-through.

Samantha checked her heavy machine gun, along with the missile rack attached to its underside. By then, the Seahawk had landed, and she and her men debarked. Abram tanks rumbled past her, engaged with the enemy Abrams up the street.

She looked up. F35s wailed overhead, their missiles sailing towards buildings in the distance.

“Move forward,” Samantha cried. The Heads-Up Display in her visor painted crosshairs on enemy troops and blinked red when she brought her machine gun over them.

Her weapon roared, though its shrieks were drowned out by the screams of the missiles that erupted from the rack beneath her gun’s barrel. The high caliber rounds tore enemy combatants into confetti, while the rockets splattered them into paste. Their cries mingled with the rap rap of bullets bouncing off her shield, which meshed with the sound of her suit’s hydraulics pumping. Only the sonic booms of distant rail guns were more deafening.

Even entombed within the cold steel of powered armor, these sounds assaulted her, tormented her, causing her adrenaline to spike and sharping her senses.

Samantha pushed forward; her mind focused on a single goal: confronting her mother.

***

An hour later, jet fighters streaked over the California State Capitol, a 157-year-old building constructed based on the neoclassical style, with high pillars at the front, a long rectangular body, and a top capped by a pointed dome. Soldiers barricaded its entrances with sandbags. Metal sheets were bolted over windows, reinforced with welded steel beams.

The senators and members of Congress that generally assembled here during business hours had been escorted to a hidden bunker miles away. Only troopers now traversed its halls, with the exception being Governor Wethermain, who had objected to being secreted away. The Federalists knew their security measures. That bunker wasn't safe; an assumption validated when reports trickled in that it was among the first hit, its occupants either dead or captured.

Heather paced over her office’s marble floors, her thoughts on the friends that had likely died in that attack, perished because of her decisions.

Her phone beeped, and she lifted it and said, “Hello?”

“Governor, it’s Rick,” his words barely audible over gunfire.

“Rick, goddamn it, where are you? You should be at my side.”

“Sorry… was ambushed while returning from… facing stiff resistance… will be….”

The phone went silent, and Heather lowered her head. Another friend dead, a man she secretly loved. She wasn’t blind. She knew that he had feelings for her, and she for him, and yet… and yet she could not bring herself to let him in. For a time, she’d convinced herself she did it because she didn’t want to betray Henry. That was a lie. She’d feared getting hurt, losing Rick as she had Henry. Now he was gone, and she could never tell him how she felt.

Lights flashed over the bulletproof windows that lined her office. She was glad that she had them installed a month ago rather than the metal plates the covered the rest of the building, as well as the fire-retardant walls that were lined with an inch of ceramic titanium. She hated just waiting, but it would have been worse if she had no idea what was going on outside.

Heather approached one window and looked out. The U.S. Army had arrived. Men in powered armor fought her troops on the grounds of Capital Park. Abram tanks slugged it out with the enemy Patersons, the much larger robots weathering multiple hits.

Heather wondered if Samantha was among them. Served her right if she was, she thought. She had pushed her daughter away, treated her like she was the enemy. What she would give to turn back the clock and redo things with her. She would have listened. She would have talked with President Wellman. America was far from perfect but leaving wasn’t worth losing her daughter. If she could only reverse time. If she could only say how sorry she was.

Heather exhaled, Alas, she would likely never get the opportunity. If only though. If only.

The sound of footsteps echoed behind her. She turned to see her security walking in. “Governor, we need to get you to the basement,”

Heather frowned, then nodded. “Very well, if you think that is—”

Explosions erupted downstairs and meshed with gunfire and the cries of her men.

Chapter 11: Fatal Reunion

Downstairs, Samantha led her men through the California State Capital. Bullets bounced off her shield or her suit’s shoulder pads. One slug nicked her helmet, barely leaving a dent, though it did produce a ringing sound in her ears. Annoyed, she snarled and repaid her attacker’s efforts with fifty caliber rounds, along with her last two missiles.

Coming up her rear, Hasting massaged the corridor with tongues of fire from his machine gun’s flamethrower. A soldier wailed a haunting shrill before collapsing.

“Stay behind us,” Samantha ordered the non-powered armor members of her team.

A grenade detonated against her battle shield. Samantha looked up and spotted a guard armed with a launcher standing behind the railing on the second floor.

A squeeze of her weapon’s trigger and that particular threat ceased to exist.

“This way. The Governor’s office is on the second floor,” Samantha cried as she climbed the wide steps on the left side of the building’s rotunda. Once at the top, she took a right, dispatched the four combatants that greeted her, and headed for the office at the rear. She entered to find her mother sitting behind her desk, her expression one of surprise and dismay.

Samantha raised her weapon. “Governor, on behalf of the President, you are under arrest.”

For a moment, her mother just gazed up at her, apparently hurt by her words. "If that’s how—”

"What are you doing? Neutralize the target. Fulfill your mission.”

Samantha turned to see Hasting standing a few yards off. “That’s not our orders, Sergeant. We are to bring her in alive to stand trial. Is that understood?”

“No.” Hasting pointed his gun at her. “You are ordered to terminate her.”

Samantha frowned, more bewildered than outraged, while the other members of Delta Force trained their weapons on Hasting and encircled him.

Instinctively, Samantha placed herself between the armored giant and her mother.

“Sergeant Hasting, I’m the one who gives orders here. Lower the weapon. Right now.”

“No. I have my own orders. The Governor is not to leave here alive.”

“Well, my orders come from the President himself, and they say the Governor is to be taken into custody. Now, I won’t repeat myself again. Lower the weapon.”

Hasting’s helmet panned, his face obscured by its reflective visor. Had the man finally cracked, or was he telling the truth about being under separate orders?

Samantha raised her battle shield. “Sergeant, you are disobeying a direct order. I—”

With shocking speed, Hasting swirled and dosed the other members of Delta Force in flames before bringing his weapon back on her. The heavy rounds peppered her shield, but Samantha bolted forward, ramming into Hasting with the full weight of her one-thousand-pound suit of armor. She carried him through the doorway and the railing to the rotunda below.

When Samantha got to her feet, she realized that both she and Hasting had dropped their weapons, yet she lifted her shield in time to intercept his fist.

“I always knew you were a traitor,” Hasting cried as he laid another punch against her shield.

Samantha discarded the shield and caught his next fist, lowering her center of mass so she could fling the man over and onto the floor. “No, just not a butcher like you,” she said as she managed to pin him beneath her. “I don’t know what nonsense you’ve convinced yourself of, but our orders come from the President, and no one supersedes him. Is that clear?”

Hasting fought her grip. “I beg to differ. My orders came from General Maloriak.”

“Bullshit. The general wouldn’t counterman the President. I’m bringing you in to answer—”

“You fool. You stupid girl.” Hasting wrestled her, this time succeeding in pushing her off before rolling away and getting up. “He ordered me to kill you as well.”

Samantha paused, stupefied. “Why? Why would he give such an order?”

“What? Do you honestly think the general loves you? He was just toying with you.”

Samantha sneered and barreled towards him. “Lier,” she screamed as she brought her fist down on Hasting’s helmet, then followed with a jab to the midsection.

Her opponent took it and retaliated with a nasty uppercut. “Oh, but it’s the truth.”

The two continued to trade punches. Metal plates screeched as heavy gauntlets scraped against each other. Samantha ripped off Hasting’s right shoulder pad, but Hasting got a grip of her left breast plate and tore at it, forcing her to take a few steps back.

Samantha gazed down at the exposed armor and the t-shirt visible between the gaps. She looked up. “Why would Maloriak give you such an order?

Hasting’s faceplate retracted, revealing bloodshot eyes that gleamed with sadistic joy. “Think. Do you believe President Wellman had the guts to order Brownback’s murder? Ditmore gave the order, and Maloriak helped him cover it up, which they did at the behest of Governor di Conti. Why do you think the Biblical World Tribune was able to get the story out before anyone else? Because they knew ahead of time that the hit was going down.”

Samantha started assembling the pieces in her head. After hostilities were declared, di Conti had rallied the southern states behind him, making him the de facto war leader, not the President. That would shoot his star into the stratosphere, create enough excitement and goodwill about him that in 2028… “He could run for president. That’s what this is all about.”

Hasting cackled. “Well, it seems that you aren’t as stupid as I originally pegged you for.”

“So, the governor is the one calling the shots.”

“No, di Conti is a grand inquisitor. Supreme Inquisitor Abbot rules our order.”

Samantha frowned. “Supreme Inquisitor Abbot? I… I don’t get it. What is this really all about? What role do I play in your sick schemes?”

“You were to be the sacrificial lamb. You were to murder your mother, die a martyr and your mother’s death would drive more states to secede.”

Samantha gasped. “Prolonging the war until the 2028 election.”

“Yes, until 2028, when di Conti becomes president and destroys the northern states, thus finally bringing the War of Northern Aggression to a close.”

“The War of Northern Aggression? The Confederacy lost that war almost—”

Hasting laughed. “We Cabalists are the Confederacy! Confederate President Jefferson Davis was a supreme inquisitor in our order. The war never ended.”

Samantha brought her fists into a guard position. “It’ll end soon enough. I’m going to bring you in, and then we’re going to hunt down you Cabalists to the last.”

Hasting gestured her to come closer. “Try it. We, Cabalist, are the true heirs of the Knights Templar. We’ve survived seven hundred years in shadows. King Philip of France couldn’t end our order, nor could the Illuminati. What makes you think you can?”

Samantha took a step forward, her gauntlets’ servos swirling, while the hydraulics in her legs hissed. “Well, first, I’m betting they didn’t have powered armor.”

***

Upstairs, Heather hid behind her desk, the sound of metal against metal echoing beyond the door. She imagined her daughter going all out with the brute. She knew she couldn’t do anything for Samantha, that knowledge enlisting the same sense of helplessness she felt whenever Henry went off to war, only now she could hear her daughter fighting for her life.

The clangs racked at her soul. What had she done, she thought. What madness had she unleashed that was now threatening to take her only child?

If she could only turn back the clock, she would have done things differently.

The clanging stopped. Silence befell the room; then a shadow appeared between the doorway. It stepped into the light and revealed itself to be a suit of armor.

Heather watched with dread as it lumbered toward a rifle held by a dead soldier. “Samantha?”

The faceplate retracted. “Shut up,” Samantha snapped, aiming the weapon at her. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m still a soldier. I’m still taking you in.”

Heather fought back tears. It was too late, she realized. She had already lost her daughter. “If you must. Besides, I don’t deserve your love. I pushed you away.”

Samantha sneered. “This isn’t about you, Mom. It was never about you. I’m bringing you in because it’s my mission. Because duty and honor demand it.”

Heather nodded. “It’s what your father would have done.”

“Yes, he would. I promise I won’t let anyone harm you until you get your day in—"

Gunfire bellowed beyond the office, followed by shouting. National Guardsmen stormed the room, Rick coming up behind them. “Defend the Governor,” he wailed.

The guardsmen fired on Samantha. Most of their bullets bounced off her armor, but a few penetrated the exposed sections, releasing blood.

Heather cried and dashed for her daughter as she toppled over.

“Why, sweetheart?” Heather asked. “Why did you have to take after your father?”

“Because I am like Dad. I am… a patriot.” Samantha closed her eyes, and Heather drew her head towards her chest and wept until it hurt to do so.

A hand grabbed her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Heather. I didn’t realize it was Samantha.”

Heather grasped his hand. “You didn’t kill her, Rick. I did. I pushed her away, just like I pushed you away, and I allowed my pain and hatred to blind me. I could have looked for a more peaceful solution. What have I done? How many more will die because of me?”

“I don’t know,” Rick said, “but I do know that the people need their governor.”

A massive explosion roared beyond the window. Heather gazed out to see Patersons lumbering up the streets, flanked by soldiers, their numbers far greater than the spatter of resistance that met them on the grounds of the grounds. Heather eyed them, then turned to her daughter’s corpse before training her eyes back at them. “Rick, give the order. We surrender.”

“Surrender? Governor, I know that things are bad, but we mustn’t—”

“Enough good people have died because of my hubris. Now, issue my proclamation.”

Rick reached for the radio in his pocket but hesitated. "Are you sure about this? You know the punishment for high treason is the death penalty?”

“I know. I accept that, but no one else is going to die today. Now, give the order.”

Chapter 12: We Surrender

An hour later, after the surrender had been issued and it was safe to do so, Heather, along with Rick and her security detail, was escorted onto the park ground. Smoke billowed from neighboring buildings. California guardsmen sat on the pavement or the grass, their hands on their heads, while U.S. GIs watched them. Others performed the task of hauling bodies away. Heather stared, cognitive of the fact that her daughter was among the dead.

She looked away and turned her gaze on a Black Hawk helicopter that landed a few dozen yards off. A familiar face departed it and approached her.

“General Maloriak, I hereby place myself and my men into your custody,” Heather said.

The general walked past her and scanned the landscape. “Where’s your lovely daughter?”

“Samantha?” Heather fought back tears. “My daughter perished in the battle.”

“I see. And yet you live. I take it that Templar Hasting is dead.”

Heather turned. “Templar Hasting?”

Maloriak made a gesture. The GIs watching over the guardsmen raised their rifles and let off several rounds, sparing only Rick and her security detail.

Maloriak pointed a pistol at her. “I hate it when I’m called in to clean up another’s mess.”

Heather stared down the gun’s barrel. “General, think about what you’re doing. It’s a war crime to kill prisoners, and the President will have your head if you—”

“The President?” Maloriak spat. “I don’t answer to him, and as far as he knows, no surrender was issued. You Californians fought to the bitter end, giving me no recourse but to raze Sacramento to the ground. Everyone will die, and you will be made to watch.”

Maloriak aimed his pistol at one of her men and discharged it. Heather blinked and did so again when he dispatched another.

He leveled the pistol at Rick.

“No, please, don’t,” Heather cried.

Maloriak grinned. “Ah, so he is someone important to you. An old friend. A lover perhaps.”

Heather raised her hands. “Look. I beg you. Please, spare him. I will do anything you want.”

“Anything you say? Is that so?” He unzipped his pants and pulled out his dick.

Heather stared at the flaccid appendage. “You must be joking?”

“No. I’ve had my fill of your daughter. Now I want to see how she compares to her mom.” Maloriak trained his pistol once again at Rick. "Do it, or he dies."

Heather looked at Rick, then got on her knees and began sucking his dick with her lips.

“Oh, yeah. That’s it. You’re one talented bitch. Far better than your daughter. Hey, do you think your boyfriend likes seeing you buff another man’s cock?”

Heather glanced at Rick, noting that his face reddened with fury.

“Faster,” Maloriak said. “A shame your daughter is dead. Then I could do you both—”

The sound of jet engines roared above, followed by the crackling of missiles corkscrewing. Explosions erupted throughout the grounds, enlisting startled shrieks.

Heather ignored them, as well as Maloriak’s wails as she bit down with all her might.

Blood splattered in her mouth, and it took several good yanks, but she succeeded in freeing her prize and then spitting it back in Maloriak’s face.

The next thing Heather knew she was being pulled away. She looked up to see Rick escorting her through the park grounds. Where was Maloriak? What was going on? She opened her mouth, but eruptions drowned out her questions, as well as sent dirt flying. They barely managed to dodge them, ultimately reaching a bench on the far end of the grounds.

Now behind cover, Heather felt safe enough to scan her surroundings. F22s and F35s battled one another in the skies, while Seahawks descended towards them.

Soldiers in powered armored debarked the aircrafts and fought Maloriak’s men.

“Who are they?” Heather asked. “Could they be reinforcements from Los Angeles?”

Rick squinted. “I don’t think so. They’re not sporting the California state flag.” He pointed. "Look. That's the Oregon state flag, and that's Hawaii’s.”

Heather’s eyes widened. “The other states have gotten involved.”

The newcomers engaged the enemy on land and in the air. Jet fighters continued to play a deadly game of laser tag. Soon, infantry appeared, backed up by Abram tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers (APCs). Even a few Paterson Destroyers displayed state flags, their 140mm artillery cannons raining death on Maloriak’s men.

A convoy of APCs approached them, came to a stop and men got out. “It’s Governor Wethermain,” one cried as he walked up to her.

Still feeling a little bewildered, Heather asked, “Which militia are you attached to?”

“Oregon National Guard,” the man said. “Seems we got here just in the nick of time.”

Heather thought of her daughter and her run-in with Maloriak. No, not just in the nick of time. “I didn’t think any of the other states would come to our rescue.”

“It’s not just Oregon, Governor,” the man said. “Washington State, Montana and Hawaii have also sided their lot with you and the people of California.”

“And we’re not the only ones who have seceded,” another soldier said. “Ohio and the other states around the Great Lakes have also gone their separate ways.”

“And New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine have declared neutrality,” a third said. “President Wellman will have to rely mostly on the southern states to fight.”

“That’s more than two-fifths of America’s standing armies on our side.” Heather turned to Rick and frowned. “I guess that ends any hope for a peaceful resolution.”

Rick gave her a grim expression. “I don’t think peace was ever in the cards.”

Heather embraced Rick and turned her gaze towards the battle, gaining a deeper insight as she watched her newfound allies liberate her city.

Maloriak had threatened to kill every man, woman, and child in Sacramento. He might be dead, or he might not. Did it really matter? Their brief conversation told her that while President Wellman might not share his views, many in America did, and the President was no longer all-powerful. People would push him to continue the war, and Heather got a feeling they would accept nothing short than unconditional surrender. Maybe not even that.

Heather’s embrace of Rick tightened, even as her thoughts dwelled on the future. “We cannot turn back the clock. All we can do is fight to protect those we love.”

Rick looked down and caressed her cheek. “I have always loved you.”

“I know,” Heather said just before kissing him on the lips. “I’ve always known.”

Chapter 13: Celebrations

A month later, Supreme Inquisitor Abbot and Grand Inquisitor di Conti walked down a hallway in the heart of a Cabal installation, dressed in black robes. They passed security doors and gazed at a command center, with a map of North America on the far wall.

The map had gone through a significant revision as of late. While Canada and Mexico remained the same, America had been divided into three smaller nations. The largest, the United States, was colored in red, while the West Coast Coalition was blue and the Great Lakes Compact green. A few states were painted with red strips, meaning that they were neutral in the conflict, though still technically part of the United States and loyal to President Wellman.

Abbot eyed it and grinned with satisfaction. “Things have gone as planned, just as the Holy One and the other Heavenly Benefactors had foreseen.”

“Yes, master,” di Conti said. “The Holy One’s divinations astound all. With my position as head of the southern militias, my star will continue to rise. When the Republican primaries come around, I will easily defeat any challenger. Besting President Wellman in the general election will prove even less taxing. His defeat at Sacramento has shown him to be weak. As the war drags on, people will demand for a strong leader. A bold leader.”

Abbot nodded. “And once you become president, we can begin rewriting the U.S. Constitution until America is the Kingdom of God.”

The two left the room and made their way down a series of tunnels, ultimately entering a room with a glass window taking up the rear. Green mist swirled beyond it.

Abbot approached the glass and brought his lips towards a microphone built into it. “War has come to the United States, Father, all because of you, all because of the choices you made long ago. You thought you could bring peace to this world. You thought you could turn man away from God, but His righteous fury now sweeps across America, cleansing it of the heretics, the apostates, the homosexuals and all who would defile His authority.”

A halfling, strapped to a metal cross and partly concealed by the green mist, looked up, his massive black oval eyes constricting as his lips parted to form a sneer.

Abbot smiled, glad to see that Dad was cognitive enough to hear his words.

He turned to di Conti. “Come, old friend. Let the demon contemplate his inadequacies. We have a war to manage. The day of our triumph draws near.”

***

Engineer Un watched his son depart before reaching out with his mind. He replayed Abbot’s memories of assassinating Brownback, gasped in horror as his boy used the very powers he’d inherited from him to kill the men defending the Governor. Human telepaths. The age of human telepaths had come, and America had no defense against them. Its institutions could not withstand an enemy that could monitor people’s every thought, know their every secret. Liberty would die, and it was all because of him. Because he had failed.

The extraterrestrial fought the chains that held him up, but they wouldn’t budge. He was still too weak, just like he had been the day they took his children.

Claudia. No, Catherina. His baby girl. His sweet baby girl. He couldn’t protect her. A wail exited Un’s lips, one muffled by the glass, one of unbearable heartbreak.

Un hung there, strapped to his metal cross, unable to do anything but rage and weep.

Chapter 14: Epilogue

Elsewhere, a thirteen-foot-tall lizard watched through a monitor. Un’s sobs tickled his ears, causing his lips to peel back to reveal razor-sharp teeth. His elongated snout tilted, his smile widening as he drew closer to better hear his nemesis’ cries. How delightful.

Satisfied, Kamru Mazdah, aka the Holy One, leaned back in his throne and waved a hand. The monitor rippled and displayed a map of the United States. “The Second American Civil War has begun. Abbot and di Conti will perform their task, preparing America for the next phase in my plan. Still, the U.S. is but one theater, one piece of a much larger puzzle.”

Kamru Mazdah made a gesture, and the monitor changed. It shifted through aerial views of Moscow, London, Bangladesh, New Delhi and many more.

The screen stopped on Hong Kong and zoomed in on a warehouse. Walls peeled back to reveal men in hazard suits working alongside vats.

On the vats, the symbol for biological agents glowed yellow and black.

Kamru Mazdah cackled, a chilling laugh that splashed acid over the armored plates that covered his thighs and sent smoke pluming into the air.

“Soon China will be rocked to its core, as will the entire world!”

The End

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